Following a previous post about the College site in the accounts books, this post highlights another series of accounts books: the Commons Books which record food bought for consumption in Hall and the names of those consuming it. Sometimes these are the only record of the names of our choristers. (An article has been written from the Commons Books for earlier years and two of the books are partially transcribed, see the catalogue descriptions of the commons books, and the article and transcriptions, for more information.) The pages for the week beginning October 18, 1578 are reproduced here (click on the image if you want to zoom in):
At the top of the page is listed the week (in this case, the third) of the financial year, then the name of the Fellow assigned to be Steward that week (in this case, Mag[iste]ro [John] Cowell). Then are listed the members of the ‘College society’ (the Provost is not included, his commons was usually accounted elsewhere): i.e. the Vice-Provost followed by the rest of the Fellows in their order of seniority, each of whom was allowed 20 pence weekly commons allowance in what amounted to an internal recharging system. An annotation next to someone’s name indicates if he was away from Co[llege] for the whole or just half the week. The Fellows are followed by the ‘Scholaribus’ = Scholars of the College, also in seniority order and allotted 20 pence per week, then ‘alii’ (others, also allotted 20 pence per week commons) which turns out to be the Bursar’s Clerk, the lay clerks and the chaplains. Then the Choristers are listed (10 pence each for their commons), then the ‘Servientes’ (servants, 12 pence per week each) that had been specified by Henry VI as being supported on the Foundation. Following the total commons allowance are, for each day of the week, the value of the food consumed at dinner and supper.
You can see that an awful lot of beef (carne bovine) and mutton (carne ovine) was being consumed, plus milk, butter, eggs (ovis – we had no College chickens or cows), various types of fish (ling, plaice, roach, pickerel), pepper, sugar, currants, dates, cinnamon, cloves, mace, suet, rabbit (‘cuniculis’), tripe, neat’s foot (the heel of a cow or ox), ‘salsamente’ which is some unspecified sauce, oatmeal, mustard and possibly other herbs (‘sinapis’), and black or white salt (‘sale nigra’ or ‘albo’). ‘Cena’ means supper, apparently the last meal of the day.
Sedge, wood and candles were part of commons expenses, I suspect the sedge was in the form of rushes strewn on the floor. Not much flour is accounted for but there was wheat (‘frumenti’) charged during this week – we had our own millstone. There are no expenses for honey that week. I have never seen expenses for beekeeping supplies in other years’ accounts books, so possibly honey was not used regularly in Hall.
Following all of the expenditures is an account of what was still in the storerooms (in stauro), and internal accounting of various College members’ cizations, i.e. personal domus accounts.
Dining expenses in the two weeks or so preceding the annual Audit at the end of October, were accounted separately. The year after the above, in the 18 days before October 30th, 1579, in addition to the usual mutton, beef etc., the College members were indulged with ‘a pigge’ one day (other pork cuts were served on other days), pigeons, capons, oysters, cream, marrowbone, veal (loin, breast, leg, shoulder and rack), ‘boylde chikins’, larks, a goose, mallard, teal and snipe. An entry for ‘sake’ doesn’t constitute previously unknown evidence of intimate links with Japan, it’s from the French ‘sec’ for dry wine. There was wine, white as well as claret, at almost every meal during the audit time. Sometimes the wine was used ‘for broth’. The College brewed its own beer at this time but beer is not mentioned in the Commons Books, suggesting that these accounts only list the actual expenditure on food. Fruit is often mentioned in general, with apples sometimes specified for the table, sometimes for tarts, and peaches are mentioned specifically once.
The ‘potticaries bill’ (halfway down in the image above) for the first week includes expenses for currants (5 pence per pound, that’s half a Chorister’s weekly commons allowance), prunes, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, mace, dates, pepper, capers, vinegar, verjuice, oatmeal, ‘unnions’, rose water and saffron. That’s a reminder of the days when medicines were plant-based and exotic plants were most readily available from the druggist.